- Baz Luhrmann - t'other half of Cinema Revisited likes you again.
Fitzgerald's novel is difficult to transpose onto the screen, so the director has instead translated it. There are both obvious and subtle referencesto the hypocrisy of hierarchy and failure of the "American Dream" (the bronze eagles on the stone plinths a gentle nod and the dialogue at times a slap to the face) of the text but he's chosen to focus on the love story. Perhaps it's more accurate to label it a dream, the fantastical nature of the visuals and the frenetic editing creating a film reminiscent of a Freudian subconscious night scape. Shots are held for no longer than a few seconds and images almost stutter at times; the editing is careful, providing a fluidity of movement and highlighting the ephemeral nature of the tale, the hero and the "love" between him and Daisy.
The limited use of wide angle shots increases the pace and intensity of the film and contrasts the enclosed, encapsulating environment of the interiors with the calming yet ever-present threat of the exterior - the ocean, the working class territory, the roads running as veins though the industry that feeds the luxury of Long Island and capitalism of central New York.
The soundtrack going from jazz to Jay-Z by way of Bach reinforces the fantasy element of the tale and the differing versions used of the same songs reflects the way different characters view both themselves, their history and others. Only the anachronistic use of Gershwin jars, it's a clunky moment in an otherwise impressive array of song arrangements.
The referencing of serpents in relation to women (the chandelier, the decoration of the handrail by the pool for example) hints at both mythical and biblical tales of the destructive or fatalistic influence of women; in particular the florally named Daisy and Myrtle (let's not linger on the potential meaning of Carroway/caraway). There's the usual subtlety of sturdy trees and pale flowers using nature to illustrate the masculine/feminine; again highlighting the impermanence of Daisy's love against the enduring love of Gatsby. The Ad Finem Fidelis emblazoned on his gate is a very literal sign to the audience of his loyalty to both her and the notion of love he has for her.
The occultist symbolism of the novel is over-played and perhaps only has relevance to those of us who have read the source material; the green light, whilst providing a wonderful visual, is also an unnecessary link to the book. Luhrmann should have played to the strengths of his alternative adaptation. The Hitch-style cameo may be a hint to the viewer that he's adopted the auteur's style of extracting the elements of a novel that play best in a film rather than laying the text verbatim on the screen. The early French farce scenes work to clear the mind of Firzgerald's more gentle, carefully laid out scenarios; the film then softens its focus, not just with the images but also the interplay between characters. In spite of, or perhaps as a result of, the pervasive party scenes the viewer becomes the Carroway character; the third person both watching and participating. There are haunting hints of Carné's Les Enfant du Paradis; the failure or success of relationships, the power and harm of attraction and dependence.
DiCaprio's heavy acting style managed not to crush the nuances of Gatsby but actually to sustain them through a close, crowded, intense film. Mulligan portrays the evasive, elusive traits of Daisy well and Fisher is bold yet brittle as the overly made-up, passionate Myrtle. Jordan Baker is under-used; perhaps because Luhrmann was less confident with the more androgynous female, to ensure the audience isn't distracted by another potential romance or just for reasons of economy with regard to the script. Edgerton is strength disguised in the form an unfaithful fool. Maguire's Carroway is a less well-formed creation, this is either a strength of the film in that the audience can more easily place itself in his role or a weakness in that he fails to elicit sympathy for Gatsby and the others. Bachchan's Bollywood star shines in his minimal appearances.
I love the novel and I also admire this film but they are two separate, yet linked creatures, and should be treated as such; if you seek to compare you'll be disappointed, take the occultist hint and open your eyes and mind to something different.